KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) Down to his last good chance for gold at the Sochi Olympics, Aksel Lund Svindal will try to defend his super-G title on Sunday.
A victory for Svindal, who dominates super-G on the World Cup circuit, would also extend Norway’s hold on the newest Alpine event on the Olympic program.
Norway has won four of seven men’s races since the discipline was introduced at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. The small Scandinavian team also has two bronze medals in that span.
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Svindal came to Sochi believing he had equal chances of winning the downhill or super-G, and placed fourth in the main speed event last Sunday.
”I’ve burned one and I have one left,” said Svindal, who accepted his eighth-place finish in super-combined on Friday as a test too tough for his slalom skills. ”There are limits to how disappointed you are allowed to be.”
Svindal is clearly favored Sunday after winning six of the nine super-G races over the past two World Cup seasons.
Using his strength and ability to link turns together, Svindal excels in a discipline which challenges racers to adapt at race speed.
Unlike in downhill, no practice runs are allowed through gates which are set the day before. France was selected in a draw to award gate-setting honors and the team’s head coach, Patrice Morisod, designed the Olympic course on Saturday.
The three men who beat Svindal in downhill – on a track said to favor the technical skiers rather than pure speed gliders – should all be contenders in super-G: Matthias Mayer of Austria, Christof Innerhofer of Italy and Kjetil Jansrud of Norway.
”The terrain is more for a downhiller,” Austria ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel said of downhill champion Mayer’s prospects. ”Yeah, he has a chance.”
Mayer’s father, Helmut, won silver in super-G’s Olympic debut 26 years ago.
The Americans who took super-G medals behind Svindal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will return Sunday. Bronze medalist Andrew Weibrecht can be drawn with any bib from 1-7 or 23-30, and believes start numbers are key on snow softened by persistent day-time temperatures of about 10 degrees C (50 degrees F).
Race organizers have pushed the race forward one hour, hoping a 10 a.m. start will help hold the surface together.
”There’s so much loose snow and your skis are doing weird things. It’s hard to hold the aerodynamics,” Weibrecht said.
Bode Miller, the silver medalist four years ago, will start between No. 8 and 15, potentially a prime spot that allows skiers to digest what troubled the early starters.
”It’s going to be tough either way,” Miller said. ”Skiing is not meant to happen when it’s 50 or 60 degrees out.”
Still, Miller should be a contender Sunday based on his runner-up finish behind Didier Defago of Switzerland in the most recent World Cup super-G last month in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
A top-three finish for the 36-year-old American would make him the oldest Alpine medalist in Olympic history, taking a record held by Kjetil Andre Aamodt.
Aamodt was 34 at the 2006 Turin Olympics when he won the super-G. For Norway, naturally.